Another overwhelming book from the Netherlands’ most talented young children’s writer
In the secret cellar under the shed, Hidde, an insecure ten-year-old, has an ‘insect lab’ where he studies slugs, grasshoppers and stag beetles. But his brother Jeppe wants to turn the cellar into a music room and he declares war on Hidde: scram, and take your creepy-crawlies with you.
An everyday brotherly quarrel, which Hidde records in his logbook, might not seem a thrilling start, but Simon van der Geest develops it into a heart-wrenching story. To judge by the ominous family atmosphere there’s more to this ferocious set-to than meets the eye. Only Hidde knows about Jeppe’s involvement in the death of their older brother Ward. It’s his only weapon in the cellar war.
Nevertheless – and this is brilliantly done – through the fierce quarrel we glimpse an apparently indestructible brotherly love. ‘However much I hated him, however sick I was of his nagging, after he’d said it I wanted to hug him,’ says Hidde.
The story interlocks beautifully at several levels; the boys come to life and every sentence is a treat. Van der Geest perfectly tailors his telling visual descriptions to his main character’s insect hobby. Hidde’s mother’s hands tremble delicately ‘like an earwig’s antennae’ and Hidde says he wishes his skeleton was on the outside, ‘like a beetle’s’. You immediately understand why.